T-shirt philosophy questions the value of what’s behind us, how much it counts

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at Herald-Dispatch.com.

Bumper stickers and T-shirts — still media for slogan communication, even amid the non-stop electronic messages of email, Facebook, and Twitter.

Some slogans are gems of wisdom. Some pure doggerel. Some mere trash.

And some stay with you 20 years.

One appeared on a Ritter Park jogger’s T-shirt, catching my father’s eye two decades ago. It stated: “Nothing Behind You Counts.”

What an interesting philosophy if not a dynamic truth.

A wide receiver with a defensive back breathing down his neck may disagree, Dad once noted. As they say in football circles, “When you hear footsteps over your shoulder, you’re in real trouble.”

That is, when what’s behind you starts counting, it begins controlling you. You tend to lose perspective. And what you hear (or think you hear) takes negative control of your thoughts. Your skill level can be compromised as well as your forward momentum.

And that’s true not only in football, but in all of life, my father concluded.

I wondered about that statement as I watched my nephew’s high school graduation. Unable to travel to Georgia, I witnessed the milestone event on my iPad, courtesy of live video streaming.

As the speaker announced the symbolic tassel move, I was struck by the jogger’s T-shirt message. For those seniors heading to college, indeed, nothing behind them counts. They have a fresh start, a blank slate and the unique opportunity to reinvent themselves. They can leave their reputations in the past and discard their high school roles with one swipe of that tassel.

Yet only a few months ago, everything behind them counted. Those college applications demanded to know not only who they wanted to be, but also who they were, complete with supporting evidence to prove it. Grades, test scores, class rank, teacher recommendations and essays short and long were anchored on the premise that everything behind them counts.

In his remarks, speaker Dr. Martin Waters, Statesboro High School principal, offered a more elegant view. “The moving of the tassel represents the opening of a curtain and is symbolic of the opening of one’s mind to the next act of life. It moves from right to left, coming to rest over the heart.”

And maybe that’s the real message of Nothing Behind You Counts: Keep an open mind to the future while putting the past in its place.

“Past is prologue,” Shakespeare reminds us. But if we allow the negatives of the past to count more in the present than the positives, it can become a burden and affect that open mind we need for the next act of life.

Baseball legend Satchel Paige summed up his take with, “I never look behind me; something might be gaining on me.”

Of course, we do look behind us; we must know what’s back there. But the point is: Nothing Behind Counts — unless we let it. We can choose how we value what is in our past.

What counts more is where we are now and where we are heading.